Thursday, August 28, 2014

'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' (2014) directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

Nine years passed.  Nine years. Nine. The years creaked by like a rusty car door tortured by an inclement, cold wind. We forgot Sin City, preferred to pretend it was all a bad dream. Noir is dead, its remains splattered all over the wall like a Jackson Pollock painting.  A crazed deep howl in the night.  I glance up, last night's whiskey a virtuoso soprano hitting high notes behind my bloodshot eyes. A blinding light at the end of a tunnel.  It's getting bigger. Screaming towards me like a bat out of hell was the resurrection of Sin City: the whores, the blood, the booze, the beatings, the uh.. more whores (possibly in Nazi uniforms I dunno).  But now it's back.  The monster is loose!  The wolf is out of the cage!  Etc.

Yup - after a long hiatus this individualistic, disturbing and visually stylish world finally has a sequel.  Confession time: as a 22 year old student I absolutely adored 2005's Sin City. It sat at a unique crucial intersection of violence, warped sexuality and cinematic beauty that I lapped up. The cherry on top was that I'd been reading the comics since I was a teenager and was thrilled to see them perfectly realised on the big screen.  But as I broadened my political, ethical and cultural horizons I felt faintly embarrassed that I'd enjoyed it so much.

After all, it was a load of misogynistic, crypto-fascist hogwash right?  A world where every woman is a prostitute and every man of worth is a square-jawed crusader who battles against corrupt plutocrats (who are probably Democrats) and solves all his problems with "his mitts".  Not helping matters was that author Frank Miller, who had previously just been vaguely fascist, went completely off the deep end and (among other things) released Holy Terror, a book in which a Batman analogue takes on al-Qaeda by way of an racist, frothing rant that straightforwardly argues that every single Muslim is secretly a bloodthirsty terrorist.  

And it's not like Robert Rodriguez has been producing much of worth lately either.

So it was with some reservations that I sat down to watch A Dame to Kill For.  About five minutes in, as Mickey Rourke's Marv was dismembering some stuck-up college kids (who are probably liberals too), I was straight back in the Sin City zone.  I was enjoying the film in precisely the same way as I enjoyed the first; the only difference was now I felt vaguely guilty about it.

Finding myself enjoying something that every intellectual bone in my body tells me not to - a film where of black and white morality, where gender roles are carved into granite and where might indisputably makes right - is a strange and not particularly pleasant sensation. Fundamentally, Sin City appeals to the same base, reptile part of the human brain as fascist propaganda. It boils down complex issues to their most base level; presenting us with (literal) crudely sketched bastards and broads who spell out their motivations in torturous, simile-packed internal monologues and villainous stereotypes to hate.  

The material is entirely constructed around goodies and baddies, plutocrat villains motivated entirely by power and sadism.  These are bad guys with zero depth other than that they are evil, they love to cause pain and they will squash anyone that defies them. Pitted against them are Miller's trademark semi-reluctant heroes - noble men forced into extreme violence (usually to protect a helpless woman).  Nobody smells of roses in Sin City, but the torture, dismemberment and death dealt by our heroes is celebrated, while the villain's is demonised.

The stylised look of Sin City; all chiaroscuro computer-generated precision, presents blood as aesthetically tolerable splashes of white, while blotting out emotion under silhouette and gobs of latex plastered to the actor's faces.  This is violence as fetish; something dark and sexual a few steps removed from reality.  But pointing out that the violence in Sin City is fetishised feels like pointing out that the sky is blue.

Everything in Sin City is fetishised; from the ridiculous leather and latex BDSM gear sported by every single woman in the film, to the classic 50s sports cars, to the whiskey, the cigarettes, the sex, the money, the weapons.  It's like viewing the world through an omni-perverts eyes - every single goddamn thing framed with the same demented, lascivious, boner-inducing gaze.

Eva Green gets this worst than most.  She spends large portions of the film entirely naked, posing like a Greek statue.  In one memorable sequence she swims nude across the screen in slow motion; the imagery apparently taking direct inspiration from Leni Riefenstahl's 1938 Olympia (seriously, compare this and this). It looks great, but these are visuals lifted from Nazi cinema, expressly designed to inculcate nationalistic pride and promote ideas of eugenic perfection (it's notable that the only black person in the film is a servile, hulking brute).

Vexingly, even recognising these incredibly seamy undertones (overtones?) I still couldn't help enjoying myself.  Sure there's about three too many scenes where our heroes assault guarded fortresses and if you did a shot every time someone crashes through a window you'd end up with alcohol poisoning, but the film is too weird not to be entertaining.  I can at least respect a film that does ridiculous things like throw in a repulsive, entirely unexplained toad-man and has a plot-point of our hero having massive plastic surgery to change his identity, which appears to amount to a new haircut.

I don't particularly like Frank Miller or Sin City much anymore, this is unambiguously fascist cinema, from the aesthetics, morality and message.  But I can't help enjoy getting sucked into this pitch-black mire, the sickest part of me taking vicarious pleasure in wallowing through Frank Miller's ruinously broken psyche.


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